Jun 9, 2013

Tokyo (2)

My first time in Japan, back in 2003, I traveled to the southern island of Okinawa, of which one-third is a US naval base since world war II. Naively, I assumed that would mean that the other two-thirds of the island would speak English as well, but I could not have been more mistaken. At the time I stayed in a hotel called 'niyuu ichi seiki', and it took me some time to figure out ahead of my trip that that's Japanese for '21st century'. Again naively, I took that as a sign of modernity. When I finally arrived late in the evening, after a 90 minute taxi ride in pitch darkness, I was a little disappointed.

This hotel was way past its heydays even decades prior to the 21st century. At the front desk they literally spoke one word of English, 'yes'. I could hardly open the door to my room because the carpet was dangerously curling upwards. And once inside, it smelled like the carpet had absorbed years of food odors, which may be correlated to the curling up. The room interior reminded me of a set of The Thunderbirds, the 1960s sci-fi tv series with clumsily moving puppets. It probably was what a Japanese designer, back in the 1960s, and on a small budget, thought today was going to look like. The room was half smelly curly carpet, and half a large polyester structure of a non-descriptive color. That structure contained both the bed, the shower, a tiny ledge with an alarm clock an another tiny ledge with a black-and-white TV set. The bed was too short to fit me even diagonally, and strategic use of the tiny ledges, putting my head next to the alarm clock and feet next to the TV set still did not make for a comfortable night.

I was on Okinawa for a conference. It was held at a nice venue that had recently hosted the G8, but it had only one, fully booked, hotel close by. The 21st century was quite a way out, literally speaking a 45 minute shuttle ride, but also figuratively speaking. Admittedly, this is the place with the longest life expectancy in the world, so perhaps that gives Okinawans a different perspective on keeping up with time. Every evening was a testimony to that, and a test to the patience of all Westerners present. Per Japanese tradition, we all had to solemnly listen to a lot of Japanese speeches before we could attack the sushi buffet. Every night, the buffet was hosted by a different authority, like the Okinawa governor, the local prefect, the minister of health, the mayor. And every host was associated with a lot of protocol and an hur worth of speeches, which seemed to last forever if you're hungry, jet-lagged and don't understand a single word. Well, actually I did understand a single word: campai, Japanese for cheers. After the second night it became clear that 'campai' was like 'amen' in these protocols, followed by drinking whatever alcoholic beverage you happened to have in your hand.

So this time around, on my trip last month to Tokyo and our company's corporate office, I was weary to hear they were hosting another welcome reception 'in the good Japanese tradition' for us visitors. However, this time around the speech was in English, and given by an American. So 3 minutes of high energy sales pitch, with only one traditional piece to it; it again ended with 'CAMPAI'. 

Also this time around, my Tokyo hotel was of the 21st century, with beds I fitted in, no smelly carpets, and swank interior design. Nothing got lost in translation here. 

It featured 5 restaurants, and a nice view on Tokyo's Midtown. 

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